Difficult school maths exam may be having long term consequences for students

A particularly difficult school maths exam may be having long term consequences for school students.

The Year 11 algebra test left students in tears and experts outraged by its difficulty in 2016.

A year later there are concerns that the exam has put students and schools off maths.

More than 30,000 Year 11 students took their algebra exams this week, some saying it was "very difficult" and admitted they "just had to pay attention."

But last year the exam was a shocker, a change in the questions caught pupils and teachers by surprise.   

The exam questions even puzzled some finance experts.

"I'd be careful about putting myself to the test, from what I've heard about the exam it sounds pretty hard," Prime Minister Bill English says.

NZQA received 170 complaints about the exam which is called MCAT.

It admits the rogue exam has had an effect, they say "after the 2016 MCAT, some schools indicated at the time that they were not planning to enter students in 2017."

Kerri Spooner is a maths lecturer whose niece is caught up in it.

"I was very disturbed when the school she went to decided to pull the MCAT out of her course of study, two months before the exam," she says.

Over the past three years the number of students taking the algebra exam has dramatically dropped with an especially sharp decline this year with more than 3800 fewer students taking the exam.

That is leaving many concerned about the number of students going on to train in the Science Technology Engineering and Maths disciplines.

Ms Spooner says it's not just students who need encouragement, schools need to worry less about their pass rates.

"My question to those schools is are you serving your students or are you serving your statistics."